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Workstation Warriors

There is an army out there.  Day in and day out, in silicon trenches they hone their skills on desktops and laptops.  They train hard and they work hard.  And they have the battle scars to prove it: back, neck, and wrist pain; headaches and eye strain.   They are the Workstation Warriors.

And you’re part of that army.  You show up diligently for your job; be it web design, accounting, programming or any of the myriad vocations that require hours of sitting in front of your computer.  Things usually start off alright, but slowly a change happens.  A tension starts building in your body.  And it grows from an annoying discomfort to outright pain.  But it’s not just the pain that’s the problem; it also affects the effort and energy you have to stay at the top of your game.  Studies show that there is significant productivity loss associated with the muscle and joint aches and pains of desk and computer work.

In light of this let’s take a look at some simple things you can do to reduce pain, make your workspace more comfortable, and improve productivity.

Ergonomic and environmental factors

Much research has been done into what the best way to sit/type/read is.  And what the research shows is that there is no single best way to approach any of those variables.  However, even though there is no perfect position, there are some general steps to take to position yourself and your workstation to function well.

Keyboard – Have your keyboard positioned just above your lap and have your arms relaxed freely or use arm rests that just support but do not elevate your elbows.

Monitor – Your monitor should be directly in front of you with the centre of the screen at eye level.  The monitor, keyboard, and you should all be in line (none of that twisting your body to reach the keyboard on one side while you look in another direction for the monitor).

Phone – When it comes to talking on the phone either use a headset or hold the phone with your hand but refrain from cradling it between your ear and shoulder (it might have made you look like you were really takin’ care of business in the 80’s, but not so much now).

Chair – Adjust your chair so that your knees are bent at approximately a 100 degree angle with feet flat on the floor while sitting upright.  Have the chair back providing support to the small of your back.

Individual factors

Along with desk and chair positioning there are also steps you can take to make sure that your internal environment is functioning well.

Move around – I’ve said many times before that our bodies are made to move and be active.  The problem, however, is that a workstation (station: from the Latin meaning to stand still) by definition is a place where very little movement happens.  So the first piece of advice is to frequently change your position.  Change how you’re sitting; stand up and move around for 30 seconds every twenty minutes or so; instead of emailing something to a co-worker, get up from the chair and bring it to them.

Stretch – Muscles will get tight.  And then they’ll get sore.  Take a preventative approach and stretch them out frequently throughout the day.  Pick one or two muscles each hour and make it a part of your routine to stretch.  It’ll make a difference.

Drink water – I sometimes think I sound like a broken record1 but having enough water in your system is important.  Water keeps your blood flowing, your neurons firing, and your nose running (a runny nose is actually a good sign that your immune system is working).  Drinks such as coffee and tea contain caffeine which is a diuretic.  Although there are health benefits associated with them they tend to dehydrate you.  My suggestion: drink an equal amount of water for every coffee/tea you consume.  Now some may say that this will have them frequenting the washroom more frequently…but that works well into getting up and away from the desk more often.

Give your eyes a break too – Use the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20 second break every 20 minutes to look at something at least 20 feet away.  This helps the muscles in your eyes to relax (yup, even in there you have tiny little muscles working hard for you)

Sometimes, however, even the best executed plans still need some extra help.  And when that’s the case, come and see your chiropractor.  Through a variety of therapies we can help reduce muscle tension and joint stiffness.  We can show you the most appropriate stretches and exercises for your specific needs.  We can just plain help you to feel better and stay well.  If you need help, contact us.

1.  Records were like big, vinyl CDs2

2.  CDs were like smaller, shiny plastic records1

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Building up your Health Account

Imagine for a moment that your financial advisor showed you a simple plan to take away all of your debt.  It’s not that there wouldn’t be effort involved, but over a short period of time you would be debt free.  How would that make you feel?  My guess is that you would feel pretty good.  Now if that same advisor then showed you a plan to keep your account balance at zero, how would you feel then?  Again, only guessing here, but you would probably feel some combination of confused, annoyed, and bewildered.  Why?  Because that’s not what a good plan for your bank account is supposed to do.

We all understand that a healthy bank account is one that’s growing or at least staying in the black.  We understand that when you make a deposit into your bank account it goes up.  And when you have a bit of a reserve saved up you have a sense of security.  You’re able to spend some without stress, and when an unexpected expense comes up, you’re able to cover it without breaking the bank.  There is both comfort and freedom that comes with an account that’s in the black.

On the other hand, when you’re in debt, there is an ever present stress.  Bills add up along with your cost of living and you hope just to be able to make the minimum payments to keep the creditors at bay.

And then there’s the middle – a zero account balance.  You don’t owe anything, but you also can’t really do anything.  And if a financial emergency comes up you have nowhere to go but into the red.  Neutral is not what they recommend when they describe a “balanced” bank account.  If someone suggested to you that this is the goal for your bank account you would, at the very least, think that they were misguided.

However, when it comes to your Health Account the latter is the exact view that most people have.  We wait until there is a problem with our health and then we start working on it.  “Ouch!  That hurts.  What should I do to get rid of these symptoms?” is the typical response.  This is followed by putting in some effort until the symptoms are gone and then stopping.  “Great, my symptoms are gone (I’m out of debt) and I can quit working at it (I’ll choose stay at zero in my account)”.

But as it is with your bank account, your Health Account is only as good as what you put into it.  Being symptom free is great.  But if you have no reserves, if nothing is built up, then you’re back down in the red fighting the battle of symptom relief or worse when the unfortunate happens.

My recommendation:  if you’re feeling well, don’t be complacent.  Approach your Health Account as you would your bank account.  Take a preventative approach and build up your health reserves.  Add in a daily walk, eat some extra veggies, do some relaxation breathing (and look through the rest of this blog – it’s full of healthy steps to take).  Every time you do something healthy you’re making a deposit into your Health Account.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever become sick, but you will be less susceptible.  And when it does happen, you’ll bounce back more quickly because your body has a good foundation to work with.

What steps are you taking or planning to take?  What has an active, healthy lifestyle meant to you?  Let us know.

How many sheep for a good night’s sleep?

Do you have back or neck pain when you sleep?  Maybe you wake up still feeling tired and sluggish.  Or perhaps you have difficulties falling asleep.  You’re not alone.  These are common problems that many people suffer with.  And it’s more than just annoying – it can significantly affect your health.  Good, regular sleep is vitally important for cell and tissue repair, improving your memory, regulating a normal heart rate and blood pressure, and boosting the immune system. As we often have patients asking about various sleep recommendations we thought that we would present an easy to read (and share) list on simple steps to take to improve your sleep.

Recommendations for sleeping with pain:

Back pain – Low back pain may be decreased by placing a pillow under the knees if lying on your back or, if you sleep on your side, placing a pillow between your knees for added support.  This helps to align the spine and reduce torsion.

Neck pain – Neck pain may be decreased with sleeping on your side or back, and not on your stomach.  A good pillow is important with neck pain – avoid pillows that are so thick or thin that they angle your head and neck away from your body.  Again, alignment is key.

Other aches – Shoulder conditions such as bursitis or tenditis/tendonosis can also be aggravated with sleeping positions.  If sleeping on the side, sleeping on the non-injured arm is often recommended, and a small pillow or towel can be tucked under the elbow on the affected side for added support.

Dangers of the heating pad – A quick safety tip is also appropriate here.  Avoid sleeping with a heating pad as they can be deceptively hot.  So much so that I’ve seen people end up with blisters from the continual low-grade heat after having fallen asleep with one.  It can be like a sun burn in the way that it sneaks up on you.  Best practice is to just not use a heating pad while sleeping.

Recommendations for falling asleep:

Keep regular hours – Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, including weekends.  This helps to regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle.  If you need to take a midday nap it is best to limit it to 30 minutes.  Also try not to nap too close to your normal bedtime as you may find yourself counting more than your fair share of sheep later on.

Careful with caffeine – Limit intake of coffees, colas, and teas in the later part of the day as the caffeine is a stimulant to your body. Everyone is affected differently, but for some people having caffeine after 12pm can cause sleepless nights. For most people it is best to avoid caffeine after dinner time.  If you feel the need for something warm to drink try decaffeinated or herbal teas.

Alcohol too – Although alcoholic beverages close to bedtime may make you feel sleepy, they can disrupt your sleep pattern and cause a restless night.

Feeding the furnace – It is best to not eat a large, heavy meal just before bed.  A late dinner may interfere with sleep as your body’s metabolism kicks in to digest the food you’ve eaten. Try to eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime.

Exercise time – A regular exercise program can also help you sleep more soundly at night.  However, avoid exercising close to your bedtime – usually at least 2 hours prior is recommended as any later may interfere with your sleep (again, increased metabolism).

Slowing down – If you have a difficult time falling asleep, try incorporating bedtime rituals such as light reading, listening to soft music or sipping a cup of herbal tea. These cues will help let your body know that it’s time to prepare for sleep.

Happy bedtime stories – Many people like to watch the news before bed, however, the news is often focused on the negative and can trigger the release of cortisol (a stress hormone) making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Recommendations for staying asleep:

In-line sleeping – In general, it is best to sleep on your back or side, and not on your stomach.  Lying on your back or side allows your head, neck and spine to relax into their natural alignment reducing stresses which may otherwise cause discomfort throughout the night.

Mattress madness – A mattress should be flexible enough to adapt to your body’s shape, while firm enough to provide support.  Studies regarding how firm the mattress should be have been inconclusive.  Mattresses should be replaced every 8-10 years to ensure proper support and comfort.

Pillow talk – Choosing a pillow often seems harder than choosing a mattress – be selective. When lying on your side, your head, neck and shoulders should remain level with your mid and lower spine. When lying on your back, your head and neck should remain level with your upper back and spine.  For most people, it is best to avoid very thick pillows or too many pillows that can cause your neck to be in a state of flexion (cranked forward).  Ideally your neck should be in a neutral position – imagine how your upper torso looks when you are standing with good posture and try to replicate this when laying on your side or back.

We spend approximately one-third of our of life sleeping; it is important that we get the most out of it and wake up feeling refreshed for a new day.  The above tips are a good start for getting the sleep you need.  Do you have anything that you would ad to the list?  What has worked well for you?  Please let us know below.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome.  The term gets thrown around a lot not just here in Guelph, but all over.  It conjures up images of wrist braces, sore hands and forearms, and specially padded keyboards.  But what is typically assumed to be carpal tunnel syndrome often isn’t.  Why should that make a difference?  Read on…

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a nerve disorder within the wrist characterized by pain, weakness, tingling, and loss of sensation of the hand and fingers.  CTS occurs when the median nerve is trapped and pinched within the carpal tunnel of the wrist.  The carpal tunnel itself is a space found on the palmar side of the wrist and is bordered by the carpal bones and transverse carpal ligament (there may be a test at the end*).

Overuse of the wrist can lead to swelling and inflammation within the carpal tunnel which, in turn, causes irritation and compression of the median nerve passing through.  Some predisposing factors include:

Work requiring repetitive wrist/hand motion

Use of vibrational equipment/machinery

More common in women (especially when pregnant)

Not to get too bogged down in the details, but there is a bit more to consider.  The median nerve has a branch that splits off just before it passes through the carpal tunnel.  It is this palmar branch of the median nerve which supplies sensation to the middle of the palm.  With true carpal tunnel syndrome you may notice wrist pain with accompanying finger numbness, but you typically will still have normal sensation in the palm of the hand because that branch of the median nerve is spared compression.  Identifying this difference through a thorough history and physical examination by a chiropractor or other therapist is important – it can mean the difference between conservative treatment,  possible electrodiagnostic testing, or potential surgery.

I started off this post, however, implying that the term CTS is often misused because pain, weakness, and altered sensation of the hand and wrist can be caused by structures other than the carpal tunnel.  For instance, the median nerve, which travels the distance between the neck and the fingers can become compressed and irritated anywhere along its’ path.  Tight muscles of the forearm are often the most likely culprits.  Other conditions such as golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, and pronator teres syndrome may be confused with CTS.  It is important to have a thorough evaluation of your specific complaint in order to direct which treatments are best.  From a chiropractic perspective we make sure to evaluate along the entire mechanical chain to see if there are other factors in the elbow, shoulder, or neck which may be contributing to the condition.  And when CTS is still high on the list of differential diagnoses,  managing the symptoms with a conservative treatment plan is the best place to start.  However, if not improving, the definitive evaluation  for CTS is electrodiagnostic testing of the nerves which I believe is very important prior to exploring any surgical options.

Most health care practitioners will agree that conservative management is the first step for forearm, wrist, and elbow complaints .  Treatments can include:

Rest and ice to avoiding aggravating factors and reduce inflammation

Stretching tightened muscles of wrist and forearm.  Very simple: reach your arm out in front with palm up. Use other hand to gently pull fingers down toward floor.  Hold 20 seconds.  Repeat several times throughout the day.

Muscle release therapy

Modalities such as microcurrent and TENS

Wrist splinting either for work or in bed to reduce repetitive straining movements or positions

Ergonomic changes made to workspace environments such as proper positioning of mouse, keyboard.

If you suspect you have carpal tunnel syndrome or suffer from other hand, wrist and forearm pain, see your chiropractor at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre in downtown Guelph Ontario.

*Okay, so there’s no test.  But I’d like to hear about any experiences you’ve had with CTS or other similar conditions. What’s worked well for you?  Were you able to manage it on your own, or did you require some extra intervention?

Jaw pain and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD)

Sharks are interesting animals.  They don’t blink; they need to stay in constant motion in order to keep water flowing over their gills; and it’s common knowledge that when they get to a certain size they develop an insatiable taste for human blood.  Another thing that we have in common with sharks* is the need to keep our mouths (in particular our jaw) in a balanced state for proper mechanical function.  In the case of the shark, they can actually dislocate their jaw to enlarge their mouth when taking big bites.  This helps to reduce some of the pressure and stress on the jaw thus allowing a pleasurable eating experience.  For people, however, dislocation is not normally possible (or advisable).  but we can take note to reduce the pressure and stresses we place on our jaw in other ways.

Now sharks don’t have a lot of jaw pain – this is self-evident by the lack of surveys filled out by sharks indicating as such.  Humans, on the other hand, have a much higher prevalence of jaw pain, also know as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD): it is estimated that between 85-95% of people will develop some TMD related symptoms in their lifetime with women more often being afflicted than men.

The temporomandibular joint itself is fairly robust.  It’s surrounded and controlled by some powerful muscles including the masseter, the pterygoids, and the temporalis among others.  The action of this joint consists of more than just opening and closing – take a moment and you’ll see that you can move your jaw through a variety of planes.  There is a delicate interplay of bone, muscle, and ligament which can be subject to stress, strain, and over-use like any other joint.  Many of us may notice some minor popping or clicking periodically, but dysfunction has a way of building up over time and can result in some more annoying symptoms:

Jaw pain

Ear pain

Headaches

Loud popping/clicking while chewing

Difficulty opening/closing the mouth

Neck pain

Some of the risk factors which may predispose you to developing TMD include the following:

Poor posture

Stress

Mal-alignment of teeth

Nail biting

Excessive gum chewing

Sleeping without head support

Sleeping on stomach

Bruxism (teeth clenching)

Previous trauma

Of all the things that contribute to TMD, poor posture and stress are among the most common.  Fortunately, they can be well managed with some knowledge and a reasonable amount of effort.

Poor posture and TMD.  Sit up straight.  You’ve heard it before from your mother or teachers – and with good reason.  When you’re sitting/standing tall the force of gravity is most balanced around all of your joints.  On the other hand, when you slouch, especially with your head jutting forward, your postural muscles actually start having to work harder.  In turn they get stressed and tired and can become sore.  Further more, when your head juts forward it causes your jaw bone to shift in such a way that it places great stress on the temporomanibular joint.  This can lead to the clicking, locking, and pain of TMD.  For information on posture and what you can do about it I recommend reading this post on upper cross syndrome as well as this one on stretching tips.

Stress and TMD.  For many of us stress can manifest itself in the form of tightening up and tensing our muscles.  For a short time it’s not a problem, but left unchecked, tight muscles can change our postural dynamics and how we move, as mentioned above.  One of the best ways to better manage stress is through the process of Active Relaxation.  Active Relaxation is a state of being self-aware during an activity designed to calm the mind.  It may take the form of meditation, deep breathing, prayer, or visualization to name a few.  It’s different for everyone.  The important part isn’t which technique you choose, but that you act on your choice.  Check here for a previous post that I’ve written which details one very simple technique to try.

Paying attention to your posture, keeping muscles relaxed, and managing your stress are some of the simplest and most effective ways to treat and prevent TMD.  When more help is required, discussing options with your chiropractor and dentist can be of great benefit (especially when they take a team approach).  But that will have to wait for a future post.

If you would like more information on TMD or finding a Guelph chiropractor please contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre in downtown Guelph Ontario.

Photo credit:  Mail Online

*best transition ever.

Star Wars Top 10 Health Tips

A healthy stormtrooper is a happy stormtrooper.

Star Wars gave us lasers, droids, and hyperspace.  We learned of the continuing struggle between the Republic and the Empire and the importance of family and friendship.  But in addition to all of the cool action and adventure Star Wars has much to teach us about living a healthy lifestyle.  Here are a few tips that I’ve gleaned throughout watching the films.

1.  Stay active.    Jabba The Hut sat around too much.  And although financially powerful he was a bit of a wimp and easily taken down by a princess (not that a princess can’t be tough…I’m just saying).  While being a couch potato can be fun every once in a while the risks far outweigh the benefits.  Heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and just general weakness are all waiting in the wings for the sedentary.

2.  Eat your veggies.  Whether on their own, on sandwiches, or lightly steamed, vegetables and fruits are definitely on a Jedi’s plate.  Studies show that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables promotes a high midi-chlorian count.  Or is it a strong immune system?  Either way, it’s a good thing.

3.  Water is good.  They didn’t have moisture farms on Tatooine just for the fun of it.  We’re made up of 60-70% water and it is vital for normal functioning.  Contrary to popular belief the blue lightning from the Emperor’s fingers was not Dark Side derived, rather it was a consequence of dehydration resulting in a build up of uncontrolled electrostatic charge (trust me, you don’t want to be standing next to that guy on a floor with shag carpeting).  But dehydration has other consequences as well:  tight muscles causing back pain, neck pain, and headaches, harder working kidneys, and mental fatigue.  So make sure to drink up and get the water that you need.

4.  Put the “time” back in meal time.  Fast food has become more than just a restaurant choice; it’s become a way of eating.  But food should nourish more than just our caloric need.  We should make the time to experience our food, its’ tastes, textures, and even the people we’re sharing it with.  The Sarlacc is a model representative for taking the time to fully appreciate food and allowing one’s meal to digest (10,000 years should be sufficient).

5.  Variety in exercise.  Strength, agility, and cardio are all important components of physical fitness.  Although all three are best developed simultaneously while running through a swamp with a green troll on your back, you may not always have such facilities at your disposal.  When that’s the case you can always shake up your own routine by periodically substituting a bike ride for a run, or a swim for the weight room.  Variety is the spice of life in galaxies far, far away as well as our own.

6.  Take time to stretch.  Think of sitting in front of the computer as the equivalent to mini episodes of being frozen in carbonite.  Over time the tightness will build up and if you don’t shake things out regularly you’ll end up stumbling around like Han after being thawed.  Get up from the computer/desk every 30 minutes or so.  Pick one or two muscle groups and take them through their range of motion.  It doesn’t take much, but it can make a big difference in keeping you feeling refreshed and productive throughout the day.

7.  Relax.  Obi-Wan Kenobi kept things in perspective and didn’t get all worked up when facing Darth Vader – in fact he became more powerful than Vader could possibly imagine.  An over-stressed and over active mind can not only hamper thinking, it can can contribute to increased blood pressure and weight gain.  Meditation, relaxation breathing, and yoga (not to be confused with Yoda) are all great ways to calm the mind and body and let the Force flow through you (as opposed to letting anger build up like the Dark Side would have you do.  Oooh those Sith…they’re just so bad).

8.  Know your limits but shoot for the stars.  Even though the odds of successfully navigating that asteroid field were 3720 to 1, Han still knew it had to be done.  We all know that the odds are often against us – that losing weight and keeping it off, or exercising regularly will be tough to maintain.  But with some self-confidence and support from your Wookie (or friend/spouse) you can beat those odds and turn it into a reality.

9.  Take time to rest and repair.  If you are injured make sure to rest and rehabilitate the injury properly.  Sure we don’t all have access to suspended scuba gear in clear acrylic walled hot water tanks like Luke did on Hoth, but following the R.I.C.E.  principles (rest, ice, compress, elevate) can go a long way to reduce inflammation and speed the healing of minor injuries.  As well, rest in the more general sense of the term, is also vitally important and a regular sleeping pattern encourages healthy day-to-day functioning.  In fact Darth Vader was misunderstood when he told Luke “You underestimate the power of the Dark Side.”  He was actually referring to a sector of the Death Star called the Dark side, a special low light  sleeping dormitory adjacent to the Tropical Plants room.

10.  Be proactive about prevention.  Yoda was a very capable Jedi even in his later years.  He understood the importance of a healthy body and a healthy mind.  Try new things and challenge yourself.  Keep learning and moving in order to stay active both mentally and physically.  I’m hoping to be able to jump around just like that little green senior when I’m 865 years old.

We don’t yet have the technical mastery to seamlessly replace a fully functioning hand lost in a light saber fight.  We’re not quite there when it comes to the finer points of using over-sized shiny black helmets for rehabilitation (you know it was shaped like that to prevent him from scratching at the stitches on his neck).  But Star Wars has shown us that there are many simple and modifiable lifestyle factors that can help us live better, healthier lives.  And I’ve only touched on some; if you have other insights and tips that you’d like to ad I’d love for you to leave a comment.  How has Star Wars helped you with your health…?

Photo Credit:  Balakov

The Ergonomics of Gardening

This week’s guest post is provided by Allison Hampton, Hons. BKin, CK.  Allison is a Certified Kinesiologist residing in Guelph Ontario.  She is the co-owner and operator of Kinective Performance.

I have to admit that I am not a professional Gardener – by far.  I am actually a Kinesiologist who specializes in Ergonomics.   I do however have lots of family, friends, and neighbours who are avid gardeners. So while people talk about the beautiful plants and flowers they are growing and what type of fertilizer they are using, I am all the while wondering about the biomechanics of how they are planting their garden. In my mind’s eye I’m picturing a horror show of people straining their backs and necks, knees and arms, working until they are physically exhausted – all to make their yards look beautiful and more awe inspiring than their neighbour’s.   All the while I am waiting for an opportunity in the conversation to ask if they warm up before they start gardening, if they schedule jobs when it is easiest to do them, and if they apply proper ergonomic principles to their gardening practices?!  There is usually never a good time to ask these questions and if I do catch a break, I almost always get those weird looks that say:  YOU DON’T garden so what would you know about it.  But the fact is, even if I am not Gardener Extraodinaire, I am a Kinesiologist with a specialty in ergonomics and part of my job is assessing how proper body mechanics can be promoted to be more efficient, prevent injury and effectively use the most appropriate tools for the job.  So now with my Ergonomic Specialist hat on, and not my “keeping up with the Joneses” hat, I will provide you with some tips for preventing gardening injuries and increasing your gardening productivity – because proper posture and movement mechanics will help you conserve energy, avoid fatigue, and prevent injury … which leaves you with more energy to scope out your neighbour’s plot!

There is a common misconception out there that if you just have the right tools for the job you will have no problem getting the job done (and no pain will be experienced as a result).   It is true that the wrong tools will make the job more difficult and stress your muscles, however, approximately 75% of the pain we suffer is due to bad habits and attitude.

So first things first, let’s talk about using proper body mechanics while gardening.

Contract your abdominals when bending to lift something heavy.  Also, when lifting heavy objects, squat and bend your knees using your powerful thigh and buttock muscles (added benefit – your petunias grow, your backside will shrink but none of it at the cost of your back!).  If that wasn’t incentive enough: bending with your knees locked, you are actually lifting 50% of your body weight in addition to the object you are lifting – being a busy mom of 3 young kids and a business owner, I know I can’t afford all that extra energy expended into playing in the dirt!

Reduce the strain on your low back by keeping objects you are lifting close to your body and center of gravity.  Keep your arms close to your body and comfortably bent.

Stand upright when working at ground level and when using long handled gardening tools such as hoes, spades and rakes.

Keep your feet shoulder width apart, rather than close together.

When carrying, show off those bi-ceps and shoulder muscles by holding from underneath with your whole hand and keep the load close to your body; use two hands for balancing the load, if possible.  If you have to carry with one hand, switch sides so that you don’t pull your body out of alignment, stressing your back and hips.

Work below shoulder level whenever possible to avoid strain on your back and shoulders.  If you have to work above shoulder level, do so no more than 5 minutes at a time. (tip:  use a ladder to bring yourself up to the level you are working at).

Use both arms whenever possible.

Never over reach; move to the job and keep moving to be close to your work.

Don’t twist – face what you’re working on squarely.

Keep your elbows partially bent, especially when doing resistive activities requiring elbow strength i.e.: digging a hole for that beautiful Service Berry bush.

Work with forearms in neutral position (thumbs up).

Keep your wrists straight (in line with forearms) when pushing, pulling or grasping.

Avoid repetitive pinching and pulling with finger and thumb i.e.: no prolonged use of pruning scissors.

Hold objects with a light grasp or pinch, avoid a tight sustained grip

Tools: Size Does Matter!

Use the correct tool for the job.

Buy tools that fit you:  know your body’s weaknesses and focus on getting the best tools that avoid injury for that body part first.

Gardening tools that are sold as “ergonomic” are only good if they fit your body.

Try out tools before you buy them because handle size, length of spindle, and weight are all important factors when choosing and using a tool “ergonomically”.

Use long handled tools to reduce strain on your back, knees, and hips instead of reaching.

Telescopic and pistol-grip require less energy and keep the body in proper alignment.

Handle diameter is important.  Although a fatter handle feels more comfortable at the wrist it will fatigue your grip more quickly; thumb and forefinger should meet when wrapped around the handle; and indentations should encourage the neutral position (thumb up, wrist straight).

Keep tools sharp and in good shape – sharp digging tools reduce the amount of effort needed to dig.

Use thin gloves made of specific material appropriate for the task, covering the smallest area of hand as possible, without being restricting.  Too much padding in a glove will decrease overall hand coordination, power grip, decreases feeling in the hand, and hand strength by at least 30%.

Gardening is great exercise!  It is a very physically demanding activity requiring the use of your entire body.  So please take the time to warm up your body before you go out into the garden.  Spend about 10 minutes on a warm up routine to get your blood pumping, your joints limber, and your muscles pliable and ready to work!

Also, remember gardening is a source of relaxation and exercise.  Try not to overdo yourself.  Plan for rest breaks (a few minutes every hour even if you do not feel tired!), drink plenty of water, and avoid dehydration.  If you are gardening for more than an hour drink a protein/electrolyte/carbohydrate drink to recharge your body.  After 3 hours take a break and eat a small meal of whole grains, protein and vegetable and fruit.

Don’t forget to rotate tasks often!  When rotating tasks move from a physically demanding task to a light activity every 20-30 minutes.   Muscles typically fatigue in less than a half hour of repetitive activity; therefore your activities should rotate between ones that require different muscle groups and different body positions.

Use your overall physical activity tolerance level as your guide for engaging in gardening tasks i.e.: if you can usually do 2 hours of physical activity in a day then you should only garden for 2 hours a day.

Whatever your level of gardening knowledge and expertise, keeping your body conditioned, practicing healthy habits, and using the right tools will keep you gardening pain free for years to come – maybe even after the Joneses have long retired their flowery gardening gloves and fancy fertilizer.

And go easy on yourself – remember that changing your work habits takes practice and time.  You will need to pay close attention to your actions and movements and readjust frequently in the beginning.  With a little dedication these changes will become habit … and you will become an Ergonomic Gardener Extraordinaire!

For more information on ergonomics Allison Hampton can be contacted at allisonhamptonck@me.com

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